The Philosophy of Global Warming


If you are interested in the relationship between the human species and the rest of life on Earth, individual and collective human purpose, evolution, cosmology, the nature of reality, astrology, spirituality, and how all of this relates to global warming & the environmental crisis of modernity, then I am sure that you will like my new book 'The Philosophy of Global Warming'. In the post below I have provided the book description, the list of contents and the first two sections of the book. You can find out how to get hold of the book by clicking on this link:

The Philosophy of Global Warming





Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Some Questions and Objections

When people come across my philosophical worldview for the first time they often get the wrong impression. The reason for this seems to be that they interpret what I am saying from within the confines of an alternative worldview, a worldview which is narrow and flawed. To get the right impression these people need to start afresh and free themselves from the constrictions which have shaped their previous thought processes. In order to aid this 'freeing' it is useful for these people to pose questions and objections which I can answer. Here are some such questions and objections:
 
 
Objector: Humans are obviously a destructive force on the planet. Just look around you, there is human destruction everywhere. We are on the brink of initiating another mass extinction of life on the planet. How can you possibly say that we are the saviours of life?


NPC: The history of human thought concerning how humans relate to the wider cosmos has been pervaded by two extremes – either humans have a uniquely special and joyous place in the cosmos, or humans exist in a ‘fallen’ state (as in the Garden of Eden interpretation of the human condition). These two extremes have their own contemporary incarnations relating to the environmental crisis. At one extreme, humanity is the saviour of life on Earth (this would be a Noah’s Ark ‘technological’ interpretation of the place of humanity in an evolving cosmos); at the other extreme, humans are the destroyers of life on Earth. This long-standing dichotomy of ‘two extremes’ can be transcended. Due to being the bringers forth of technology humans are the destroyers of some of the life-forms of the Earth. Yet, simultaneously, humans are ultimately, and most fundamentally, the saviours of life on Earth. Far from the simple either/or dichotomy, the reality of the situation is both/and. Humans destroy in order to save.




Objector: People who actually care about Life on Earth are not wrapped up in narcissistic fantasies of human conquest; they are against geoengineering.


NPC: This is wholly unhelpful. Lots of people with very diverse views about what course of action we should take actually care about Life on Earth. The real issue is not caring; it is the realisation that the survival of complex life on Earth requires the geoengineering of the temperature of the atmosphere. A planet can be wholly populated by individuals who care about life on that planet, yet because these individuals lack this realisation their actions can lead to that life becoming decimated.




Objector: I believe that all species and all cosmological processes are in a state of becoming the next stage of creative evolution, creating the next opportunity for the next cosmological leap. Why should I believe that the human species is the end point of planetary evolution?


NPC: To see that the human species is the zenith of the evolutionary progression of life on any life-bearing planet one needs to have an adequate conceptualisation of what the human species is. For me, the human species is the bringer forth of technology; which means that it is also that part of a planet which considers itself to be not natural (this is a requirement for developing technology). In other words, the zenith of the evolution of life is to bring forth technology to ensure the continuation of that life. Once this zenith has been reached evolution will continue; species will go extinct and new species will evolve. To appreciate that there is a zenith to the evolutionary progression of life on Earth isn’t to believe that evolution will simply stop when the zenith has been reached. Indeed, it is precisely the attainment of the zenith itself that enables evolution to continue.
 

 

Objector: Is the purpose of human life "geoengineering"? No. From the perspective of modern evolutionary theory, life, including human life, is accidental and without purpose -- of any kind. "Life" (whatever that may be) just is and happens. Any presumed human "purpose" is purely arbitrary and is a social construction, it can be argued for but it cannot be established as THE, or even A, purpose.


NPC: The view that human life is accidental and without purpose is itself a social construction. Modern evolutionary theory is not wholly false, but it is a woefully incomplete picture of the way that the universe, and the part of the universe that is life, evolves through time. What we really need is a more comprehensive view of the plethora of forces that are involved in the evolutionary process. You are right that establishing that the human species has a purpose is not easy, but that does not mean that such a claim is not true.




Objector: You place humans at the peak of creation, when the reality is that this is not the case; humans exist in a relationship of interdependence with all that is.


NPC: This is a simple false dichotomy. It makes perfect sense to be at the peak of an interdependent planetary life/planet/cosmos.


 

Objector: The human species needs to give up its compulsion to dominate and control.


NPC: No it doesn’t. It needs to accept that it is the peak of creation; it needs to accept that its purpose is to technologically control the temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere; it needs to accept that it is the saviour of life on Earth. If your ‘giving up’ wish came true, then we would have given up on life on Earth and the future would be dreadfully bleak.



Objector: You seem to believe that humans are the only valuable life-form on the planet!


NPC: No. I believe that all of life is exceptionally valuable in itself; in other words, the value of a life-form has nothing to do with human valuation and interests. The very fact that a life-form exists means that a precious thing exists. However, I believe that there are different levels of value within life-forms. I believe that sensations and feelings pervade the universe, existing in both the living and the non-living. In the realm of the living are plants which contain feelings but do not contain any awareness of these feelings. There is a slightly fuzzy boundary between plants and animals, and there may be a few exceptions to the rule, but animals can be thought of as life-forms which have awareness of their feelings. This awareness means that animals can suffer, whereas plants cannot suffer. For me, this means that animals are more valuable life-forms than plants; they are more deserving of our respect than are plants. Within the realm of animals there is a division between the human species and all other animals on the Earth; the human species is the most valuable life-form on the Earth. The reason for this is that the human species is that part of life which has become technological, and therefore it is the only life-form which can save the totality that is ‘life on Earth’ from extinction.


Some people believe that if one accepts that all life is valuable then it immediately follows that the human species should ‘rein in’ its involvement with the Earth, that it should reduce its population size and its resource use; that humans should use less technology, stop modifying habitats and ‘leave things to nature’. This does not immediately follow. Having respect for all life-forms, valuing all life-forms, does not in itself lead straight to a particular conclusion concerning the appropriate way that humans should interact with the Earth.




Objector: Do you think that we have a responsibility to ‘future generations’?


NPC: I prefer to think of the ‘future existence of planetary life’, rather than of ‘future generations’. However, I will answer your question in terms of ‘future generations’. The answer is: Yes. If we ignore ‘future generations’ of humans and non-human life-forms, if we focus solely on the interests of the life-forms that are currently alive on the Earth, then we can consider what the most appropriate course of action would be. Given that there are uncertainties and risks in the realm of geoengineering, and given that the serious time-lag effects resulting from previous actions don’t start until around the end of this century, there would be a strong case for not geoengineering the temperature of the atmosphere. In other words, if we are wholly selfish, and are only concerned about our own existence (the existence of life-forms currently in existence), then the optimal course of action seems to be to avoid all possible risks to our own existence.


However, as soon as we bring ‘future generations’ into consideration then everything changes. If we care about the future existence of life on Earth then we need to take responsibility for the future. We need to accept the risks and uncertainties arising from geoengineering in our own lifetimes in order to enable the existence of ‘future generations’. In short, we owe it to ‘future generations’ to geoengineer the temperature of the atmosphere. To not do so would be extremely selfish.



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Sunday, 17 November 2013

The Technological Healers of the Earth


In the July/August 2013 edition of the Resurgence & Ecologist magazine Charles Eisenstein outlines his view concerning the relationship between environmental problems, technology and the healing of the planet (Latent Healing, pp. 36-8). Eisenstein has many interesting things to say; however, the central premise of his view is fundamentally flawed. In this post my aim is two-fold. Firstly, I will explain why the central premise of Eisenstein’s view is grounded in a false dichotomy. Secondly, I will comment on the positive aspects of Eisenstein’s view and relate it to the more comprehensive philosophical worldview that I have been developing over the past decade. My hope is to show that Eisenstein’s view is valuable and insightful, yet also partial and limited.

So, let us start by identifying the false dichotomy that exists at the heart of Eisenstein’s view. Eisenstein states that:

 
We can assume that by now the environmentally conscious person has seen through the delusion of applying technology to remedy the problems that have been caused by previous technology. (p. 36).

 
The technological fix addresses the symptom while ignoring the illness, because it cannot see an integral entity that can become ill. I don’t want to gloss over the profundity of the paradigm shift we are accepting if we are to see Nature as intelligent and purposive (p. 37).

 
Furthermore, Eisenstein claims that anyone who believes in a “technological fix” to environmental problems is constrained by a “mythology” which causes them to exist in a “disconnected state of being that is blind to the indwelling purpose and intelligence of Nature” (p. 37).

Whereas, according to Eisenstein, he isn’t stuck in such a “mythology”. Apparently he has “seen through this delusion” and is therefore an “environmentally conscious person” who can see that we live in “an inherently purposeful universe”. He claims that: “The technological fix is based on linear thinking. The alternative is to develop sensitivity to the emergent order and intelligence that wants to unfold, so that we might bow into its service.” (p.38).

So, in short, Eisenstein attempts to persuade us that these two things are sharply antithetical:


1        A purposeful intelligent universe

 
2        A technological fix to environmental problems



He really seems to believe that this is so. However, this is completely and utterly wrong; he has simply set up a false dichotomy based on his own mythology. The question of whether there is a technological fix to environmental problems is very plausibly influenced by the question of whether the universe is purposeful and intelligent. However, it is just as plausible to believe that it is precisely because the universe is purposeful and intelligent that an environmental ‘technological fix’ is required. Eisenstein doesn’t even appear to realise that this is a possibility. So, it will surely be helpful if I relate what Eisenstein has to say to the philosophical worldview which I have been developing over the past decade. There are some interesting commonalities between Eisenstein’s view and my philosophical worldview. However, I believe my view to be deeper and more comprehensive.  In other words, Eisenstein is on the right track but he hasn’t had the deeper insight which would have enabled him to put the pieces of the jigsaw together to form a more complete cosmic picture (he is missing several pieces).

Both Eisenstein and I support the idea of a purposeful intelligent universe, the unfolding of which includes the bringing forth of the human species. The main difference in our views is that I have seen how technology, and in particular the application of human technology in the environmental arena, is a fundamental part of a purposeful intelligent unfolding universe. Indeed, it is obvious to me that our purpose as a species is to utilise technology in order to regulate the temperature of the atmosphere; this outcome being for the benefit not just of humans, but for life on Earth. Eisenstein hasn’t come to appreciate this, but unlike most people, he is pondering closely related questions, such as (p. 38):

 
What is the purpose of technology on a healed planet?

What is the purpose of this unique species [humans] to which Gaia has given birth?

 
The first question Eisenstein poses actually makes no sense to me because it is obvious to me that the purpose of technology is to heal the planet; it would have no purpose on a healed planet. Of course, technology would have uses on a healed planet, but uses and cosmic purpose are two very different things.

A central component of my philosophical worldview, a component that is lacking in Eisenstein’s view, is the realisation that the planet was ill/required healing before it gave birth to humans. In other words, it is not the case that technology created a problem (and that even more technology cannot provide the solution to this problem). Einstein’s view is seemingly grounded in the belief that if technology creates a problem then it cannot simultaneously solve that problem. This seems highly dubious to me as a blanket view, but even if it were true then it doesn’t apply to what we are talking about here. For, the need for technological regulation of the temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere is ultimately a non-technological problem; a non-technological problem to which technology is the solution. Of course, this simplifies what is a complex situation, because the deployment of human technology has exacerbated the pre-existing problem/illness. The key point to realise is that humans, and human technology, are not the cause of planetary illness. Exacerbating a pre-existing illness is a very different kettle of fish from creating an illness. Indeed, exacerbating a pre-existing illness can be a necessity if that illness is to be cured.

I presume that you can see what I am saying here. For the sake of argument, let us grant Eisenstein his claim that technology cannot be the solution to a problem created by technology. This means that all of the environmental problems which have been caused by human technology will have no technological solution. Nevertheless, if there is an environmental problem which has its roots in a non-human pre-human cause then, even if human technology exacerbates that problem, it can still be the solution to that problem. Indeed, the exacerbation can be the sign that the cure is imminent. In the rest of the article I am hoping to get you to see that the stability of the temperature of the atmosphere is such a problem, and that human technology is the solution.

At the heart of Gaia Theory is a vision of the Earth as a self-regulating but ageing whole. Another way of putting this is to say that the Earth attempts to maintain the conditions suitable for life despite the ageing of the Earth-Solar System. The Earth needs to maintain a Global Mean Surface Temperature (GMST) which is neither too cold nor too hot if complex life (plants and animals) is to exist; this ‘habitable’ temperature range is between 10oC and 20oC. The Earth has managed to achieve this GMST throughout the history of life on Earth despite an increase in incoming solar radiation of 25% since life arose. As Sir James Lovelock puts it:

 

We may at first think that there is nothing particularly odd about this picture of a stable climate over the past three and a half eons [3,500 million years]… Yet it is odd, and for this reason: our sun, being a typical star, has evolved according to a standard and well established pattern. A consequence of this is that during the three and a half aeons of life’s existence on the Earth, the sun’s output of energy will have increased by twenty-five per cent.

                                 (Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth, OUP, 2000, p. 18)

 

As the Earth-Solar System ages a forever increasing amount of solar radiation is sent from the Sun to the Earth; this is obviously a force for global atmospheric warming. The Earth-Solar System is now at the age where the Earth is struggling to maintain its atmospheric temperature within a range in which complex life can survive. The increasing solar radiation is putting immense upwards pressure on the Earth’s atmospheric temperature which could lead to an increase to a level which is too hot for complex life to survive. This struggle is a sign of planetary illness. Lovelock has realised this:

 

The brief interglacials, like now, are, I think, examples of temporary failures of ice-age regulation.

                                              (The Revenge of Gaia, Penguin Books Ltd, 2006, p. 45)

 

[Gaia] is old and has not very long to live. As the sun grows ever hotter it will, in Gaia’s terms, soon become too hot for animals and plants and many of the microbial forms of life.

       (The Revenge of Gaia, Penguin Books Ltd., 2006, p. 46)

 

So, the transitions between ice ages and interglacial periods are an indication of planetary illness which is caused by the increasing output of the Sun. We are now approaching the time when the Earth requires technological regulation of the temperature of its atmosphere. The Sun will continue to send more and more solar radiation to the Earth; the deployment of technology is the only way that the temperature of the atmosphere can be kept suitably low for complex life to survive. Such a use of technology is the only way that the Earth can be healed.

In other words, the Earth has brought forth a technological species precisely at the moment in its evolution when it requires technological regulation of its atmosphere. This is surely a sign that we live in a purposeful unfolding universe; a universe which contains humans as the healers of the Earth. What a wonderful vision. The development of the healing technology is itself a painful process, it entails the bringing forth of a range of environmental problems and also the transitory human exacerbation of the illness for which human technology is the cure. However, this era of human separation, of suffering, of environmental problems, of technological development, is a transitory era which results in the healing of the Earth and ultimately the healing of humanity too.

So, in contradiction to what Eisenstein claims, a purposeful intelligent universe can be one in which there is a need for technological geoengineering of the atmosphere (Eisenstein rejects this and claims that it “will likely cause horrific unanticipated consequences”, p. 36). Whilst Eisenstein is wrong when he denies that a purposeful intelligent universe can entail the need for geoengineering, he is surely right to assert that many of the environmental problems that we face are caused by technology and have no technological solutions.

The vision I have presented of humans as the technological healers of the Earth clearly does not deny that humans have caused environmental problems which need to be addressed. Technology has caused many environmental problems and I believe that there is a space for both technological and non-technological solutions to these problems. The human role as technological healers of the Earth is a specific role: regulating the temperature of the atmosphere to keep the planet habitable for life despite the increasing output of the Sun.

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Wednesday, 23 October 2013

The Conceptual Framing of Geoengineering


In my last post I considered the most recent wave of realisation concerning the need for geoengineering. Two weeks after this post was published an article appeared in the New Scientist which outlines the specific types of geoengineering that will be required; the article also specifies the locations on the planet where each of these types can be implemented. Here is a taste of the article:


"THIS is how we will hold off disaster. To help us avoid dangerous climate change, we will need to create the largest industry in history: to suck greenhouse gases out of the air on a giant scale. For the first time, we can sketch out this future industry – known as geoengineering – and identify where it would operate.

The bottom line is that CO2-suckers are essential, but we also need to ditch fossil fuels quickly. It's that or climate havoc."

Terraforming Earth: Geoengineering megaplan starts now
09 October 2013 by Michael Marshall


 
 
I am glad to see that concrete plans are being made concerning how the technological regulation of the atmospheric temperature will be achieved. What we really need to see, in tandem with this, is a growing realisation that not only is this is an inevitable outcome, but that it is also a positive outcome.

The current widespread conceptual framing of geoengineering as a 'weapon of last resort' leads to inevitable resistance to the phenomenon. There even seem to be a great many people who are so opposed to geoengineering that they would rather see a massive jump in the atmospheric temperature of the Earth which instantaneously wipes out a plethora of human and non-human life forms, than they would see geoengineering deployed to stabilise the atmospheric temperature for the benefit of all these life-forms.

Such a view is irrational and potentially harmful, and its existence is one reason why I believe that it is helpful to move to a different conceptual framing of the phenomenon. We can adopt a philosophical worldview which entails that the life that has arisen on the Earth is currently giving birth to the technological armour - via the human species - that will protect it for the foreseeable future.

It is this philosophical worldview that I have been outlining in my blog posts and in my books.


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Saturday, 28 September 2013

The Inevitability of Geoengineering


In numerous previous posts (for example:  The Need for a New View of Humans in the Cosmos; Emissions Cuts: The Gap between Ambition & RealityThe Futility of Emissions Cuts; The Growing Realisation of the Need for Geoengineering the GMST) I have cited cutting-edge research and emerging opinions which provide evidence and support for my philosophical worldview. This month has seen a wave of further support for my view, notably from several articles in The Guardian. Earlier in the month astronomer royal Lord Rees expressed the opinion that:

 
If the effect [rising atmospheric carbon dioxide/temperature leading to climate change] is strong, and the world consequently seems on a rapidly warming trajectory into dangerous territory, there may be a pressure for 'panic measures'... These would have to involve a 'Plan B' – being fatalistic about continuing dependence on fossil fuels, but combating its effects by some form of geoengineering.



 
A few days ago another relevant article appeared on The Guardian website entitled: Why Geoengineering suits Russia's carbon agenda. In this piece Professor Clive Hamilton states that:


There are some more reasonable Russian voices talking about geoengineering, including a handful of scientists modeling the impacts of sulphate aerosol spraying. However, they argue that geoengineering is inevitable because carbon emissions are growing by more than the IPCC’s most pessimistic projections: "Therefore, humankind will be forced to apply geoengineering to counter the unwanted consequences of global warming."


 
I also came across another Guardian article by Professor Hamilton from March of this year (Why geoengineering has immediate appeal to China). In this article he cites the scientific evidence that the human perturbation of the atmosphere is currently accelerating rather than declining, levelling off, or declining:


Yet neither China's efforts nor those of other countries over the next two or three decades are likely to do much to slow the warming of the globe, nor halt the climate disruption that will follow. Global emissions have not been declining or even slowing. In fact, global emissions are accelerating.

 
 
Today another article appeared on The Guardian website: Why has geoengineering been legitimised by the IPCC? In this article Jack Stilgoe says he is “scared” by the mention of the word ‘geoengineering’ in the latest just-published IPCC report:
 

To include mention of geoengineering, and its supporting "evidence" in a statement of scientific consensus, no matter how layered with caveats, is extraordinary. If I were one of the imagined policymakers reading this summary, sitting in a country whose politicians were unwilling to dramatically cut greenhouse gas emissions (ie any country), I would have reached that paragraph and seen a chink of light just large enough to make me forget all the dark data about how screwed up the planet is. And that scares me.



One theme that underpins all of these opinions expressed in the various Guardian articles is the assumption that the technological regulation of the temperature of the atmosphere should be seen as a 'weapon of last resort'; it should be seen as something that we do only because we are incapable of sufficiently reducing our emissions of greenhouse gases. I have commented on this very widespread view of geoengineering as a 'weapon of last resort' in previous posts. All of the advocates of geoengineering that I have ever come across (except for me!) stress that they are only reluctantly advocating the measure as a regretful 'weapon of last resort'; in other words, if human greenhouse gas emissions could be magically slashed overnight this would be preferable to geoengineering.

One of the most important conclusions that falls out of my philosophical worldview is that the technological regulation of the temperature of the Earth's atmosphere is a joyous event which should be actively and vigorously pursued. Such an activity is required for the continued existence and flourishing of the life that has arisen on the Earth. Such an activity is in the interests of life. If humans were not to carry out geoengineering then they would be condemning the Earth to a barren and lifeless existence.

On my view we are likely to technologically regulate the temperature of the atmosphere in the belief that this is a 'weapon of last resort' in response to irresponsible human activities; and then, at a future date, we will come to realise that such an activity was actually a positive joyous event. We may even widely come to appreciate that the carrying out of such an activity was actually the reason that we came into existence as a species. However, it is at least possible that the collective awareness of our place on the planet will reach such a level that the joyous and positive nature of geoengineering will be realised before we carry out the activity.
 
As I have noted before, such a realisation would have many benefits, including saving the enormous amount of money which is spent on futile schemes which attempt to avoid the need for geoengineering. Such money could be spent much more wisely on both geoengineering projects and other environmental and developmental projects. So, the recognition of geoengineering in the IPCC report is a very small step in the right direction.
 
 

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Thursday, 15 August 2013

Technology and Stewardship


Two recent newspaper articles highlight the one-sided way that contemporary religious authorities have come to view environmental issues. The first article is ‘Fracking risks God’s creation, says Church’ by James Kirkup, which appeared in The Daily Telegraph (14 August 2013, p. 1). According to this article, a leaflet published by the Church of England Diocese of Blackburn states that “Fracking causes a range of environmental problems” and that believers should consider their Christian duty to act as “stewards of the Earth” in order to protect “God’s glorious creation” from fracking. The leaflet also states that “succeeding generations” will suffer if “the Church remain[s]
uninformed and silent” on the issue.

The second article is ‘Reduce impact on climate or we disinvest, CofE warns companies’ by Sam Jones, which appeared in The Guardian (13 February 2014, p. 11). According to this article:

 
The Church of England has said that it will, as a last resort, pull its investments from companies that fail to do enough to fight the “great demon” of climate change and ignore the church’s theological, moral and social priorities.

… the Rev Canon Professor Richard Burridge, told the General Synod that… “Pointing the finger at the extractive industries avoids the fundamental problem which is our selfishness and our way of life, which has been fuelled by plentiful, cheap
energy”.



I will explain why this way of looking at environmental issues is one-sided. These assertions are based on the assumption that the Destroyer Worldview is true. This assumption gives rise to a particular interpretation of what it means for humans to be “stewards of the Earth”. This assumption (that the Destroyer Worldview is true) is widespread in contemporary society, but one might have expected religious authorities to explore a different view, given that central to all religions is the importance of the human species, the specialness of the human species. That humans rightly have dominion over the resources of the Earth, that such dominion, such domination (a side-effect of which is the environmental impacts that it creates) is a good thing, is central to most religions. This is explicitly stated in the Bible and in many other religious texts. Such a view of rightful human domination leads to the Saviour Worldview, which is the opposite of the Destroyer Worldview.

Surely, one would think, religions such as the Church of England should be “informed” by their historical religious texts, rather than being “informed” by a particular contemporary social construction which is peddled by the scientists, environmentalists, politicians and activists of the day. Yet, when it comes to environmental issues it seems, based on the newspaper articles quoted above, that the religious texts have either been cast aside or reinterpreted in accordance with the dominant contemporary worldview (the Destroyer Worldview). In this case, the Church’s desire to be “informed” seems to mean listening to what scientists and activists/protesters are saying, and giving this priority over what is said in their religious texts relating to the rightful dominion/domination of humanity.

If one initially approaches environmental issues not from the scientific/activist approach (the Destroyer Worldview), but from the theological/religious approach, then one can see things differently. However, the religious authorities seem happy to simply unquestioningly go along with the scientific/activist approach. In other words, they simply accept that human environmental perturbations and human stewardship of the planet are polar opposites rather than complementary.

If you look at many ancient religious texts for insight into the nature of the human/non-human relationship then the key phrase is ‘human stewardship of the Earth’/‘human dominion over the non-human life-forms of the Earth’. The scientific/activist interpretation of stewardship is that human technology is an evil, an encroachment on nature, an offence to (God’s) creation/life. Contemporary religious authorities seem to have simply bought into this view. However, they need not, and they surely should not.

The religious texts offer a more compelling view of ‘human stewardship’; a view according to which human technology is actually a ‘gift from God’. Indeed, in this view, technology is the most precious part of God’s creation, and humans, as the bringers forth of technology, are the most precious part of the Earth. God is the original creator, the bringer forth of the Universe; on Earth humans are the creators, the bringers forth of technology. So, humans have a special relationship with God and a special place on the planet.

If you look at the Bible, you will find that humans are special because of their technological abilities. When you read about Noah’s Ark you will realise that the human technological ability to create, to bring forth The Ark, was a wondrous event which enabled humans to save the non-technological life-forms of the Earth. Technology is the saviour of life. I believe Noah’s Ark to be a prophetic account. The human purpose on the Earth is to develop technology for the benefit of life on Earth. This is what ‘human stewardship’ entails.

What this means is that the development and deployment of technology is a fundamental part of human stewardship. Only certain technologies are required to fulfil God’s purpose, but when the technological genie is released its development leads into all sorts of creations (nuclear power, fracking, airplanes, cars, submarines). Environmental problems are simply a deleterious side-effect of this purpose, this greater good, this bringing forth, this epoch of foretold human stewardship. In other words, environmental problems are a fundamental part of the human stewardship of the Earth; they are not antithetical to it.

I would urge religious authorities to consider the various interpretations of ‘human stewardship’ that exist; I would urge them to consider how the view that I have just outlined is supported by their religious texts. This would surely be much more fruitful than getting “informed” through the limited and skewed assumptions of scientists, politicians and environmental activists.





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Monday, 12 August 2013

The Environmental Crisis & the Colonization of Space


A few days ago I came across a copy of the Resurgence & Ecologist magazine which was published late last year (September/October 2012, No. 274). In this magazine there was one article which I think completely misses the point. In 'The Great Space Myth' (pp. 54-5), John Naish attempts to convince the reader that "the empty promise of space colonies only encourages the continuing ruin of the one planet we can inhabit". Naish claims that:
 
"such lofty ambition [to establish human space colonies] has a shadow side because it gives us permission to act as bad tenants of the planet we already live on. It encourages our species' habit of rapaciously destroying those ecosystems that support us only to abandon that mess and find new virgin territory to despoil."


It is the claim that the human activities (past and present) that have resulted in the 'environmental crisis' of modernity have been "encouraged" and "given permission by" the following belief that I find to be highly implausible; well, not highly implausible, just plain wrong:


The Belief:   If we change the Earth's biosphere to such an extent that it becomes uninhabitable then we can move to a space colony.


There is an 'environmental crisis' because this term is a concept created by humans to refer to a subset of human activities. The 'environmental crisis' has a cause or causes; this cause/s is the reason why humans have acted in the way that they have. What I find to be wrong is Naish's claim that one of the causes of the 'environmental crisis' is 'The Belief' (as detailed above). I believe that the causal roots of the 'environmental crisis' can be traced back to the formation of the Solar System, but many people simply trace the roots back to the Industrial Revolution; this was when the large-scale human modification of the Earth's biosphere was set in motion. I don't think anyone (except possibly Naish) believes that the pioneers of the Industrial Revolution were causally influenced in their activities by 'The Belief'. I don't believe that these pioneers thought something like: we could do this Industrial Revolution thing and if it all goes pear-shaped we will simply move to a space colony!

Similarly, I don't believe that any of the human actions that have caused the 'environmental crisis' have been causally influenced by 'The Belief'. Humans, past and present, simply act in accordance with their inner feelings/motivations/drives, they act in a way which they believe will make them happy. For many humans alive today this means acting in a way which they believe is sustainable/environmentally-friendly. For many humans alive today this means acting in a deeply unsustainable way (constant airplane fights, gas-guzzling cars, high all-round resource use). What seems wrong to me is the belief that those humans who are acting in an unsustainable way (individuals, corporations, governments) are causally influenced to act in this way by the belief that their actions are justifiable/permissible/acceptable because if everything goes wrong we can move to a space colony.

Clearly, if one wants to modify human activities across the planet in order to make them in accordance with what one personally believes to be desirable, then one needs to identify the actual causes of human activities. If one believes that human activities are caused by the belief that humans can escape to a space colony, then one is surely wrong. Furthermore, from the perspective of my philosophical worldview, current human activities across the planet are just as they should be.  The force to environmental destruction is in the ascendancy which is a sign that the Earth is bringing forth the technological protection that life needs in order to survive; the force to environmental sustainability is weak but growing, which means that when the technological protection is in place we can look forward to a long-term sustainable future on this planet (although in the distant future space colonization seems to me to be inevitable; human technology will enable both humans and non-human life-forms to live in non-Earth locations when the Earth becomes uninhabitable because of non-human causal reasons).

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Sunday, 28 July 2013

Is Fracking Good or Bad?


Fracking has emerged as a new area of environmental confrontation, particularly in the UK and the US. On one side of the confrontation are environmental activists who are passionately attempting to stop fracking; on the other side are the businesses engaged in fracking and the government, which is subsidising their activities. In this article I outline how the fracking confrontation relates to my philosophical worldview.
In my books I outline the 'two' forces which are driving the evolution of human culture – the force to environmental destruction and the force to environmental sustainability. These two forces are represented by the two sides of the fracking confrontation:
 
·      The force to environmental destruction – The businesses engaged in fracking, the government which is subsidising fracking, the millions of people who like to use lots of energy and like it to be as cheap as possible, and the transnational flows of technology and resources which cause governments to seek to be competitive on the ‘world stage’ (which requires utilising the latest technologies and having cheap energy costs for business).
 
·      The force to environmental sustainability – Those people (individuals, groups, charities) who passionately believe that fracking is a bad thing because of potential environmentally deleterious consequences.
 
The force to environmental destruction is currently the dominant force in human culture; more than this, it is the underlying force which has driven the entire evolutionary progression of planetary life from simple beginnings billions of years ago to globalised technological society. It is an exceptionally powerful force. In contrast, the force to environmental sustainability is currently in its infancy; it is puny in comparison to the destructive force, it is weak but it will gradually grow in strength over time.
I should stress that these forces are just the workings of the universe as it gradually unfolds; there is no ‘goodness’ or ‘badness’ involved in the forces. The force to environmental destruction is not ‘bad’ simply because it involves the word ‘destruction’. I could have used another phrase to refer to this same force; I could have called exactly the same force the force to planetary ecstasy, and this would be an equally appropriate name.
What does this mean when it comes to fracking? Well, the powerful force will be victorious. Fracking is already a major energy source in the US and it will become so in the UK. However, in some sense, talk of being ‘victorious’ misses the point. The environmental activists who are passionately opposing fracking should not be thought of as wasting their time. These activists, and the force to environmental sustainability of which they are a part, are a crucial part of the unfolding planet as it moves towards a more harmonious future. In the future, the Earth will be in a state where the two opposing forces (destruction/ecstasy and sustainability) are in a state of perfect balance (or to put it another way, the singular force will have fully matured). This state will only come about because of the growing strength of the force to environmental sustainability. In other words, despite losing the fracking confrontation, those who are passionate about the environment should continue to channel their energy into similar activities.
What I am saying here needs to be seen in the context of my wider philosophy. Environmental activists typically take a narrow view which focuses wholly on the effects of a singular activity. For example, a typical activist view would be: fracking is bad because it involves risks such as contamination of the water supply, air pollution, and geological destabilisation; it will also contribute to global warming. We can get our energy from safe and renewable resources; we have no need for fracking. My philosophy gives a wider perspective within which the human presence on the planet is a positive joyous one; this is because through the human species life on Earth is currently evolving itself a set of ‘technological armour’ which will ensure its future survival. Furthermore, our current use of fossil fuels is playing a major part in us fulfilling this objective of bringing forth the ‘technological armour’.
If one takes a narrow view then one can make a case that fracking is ‘bad’. However, if one takes the wider view then, if anything, fracking is ‘good’. In other words, the fact that the Earth has reached the stage in its evolutionary progression where life is using and deploying fracking technologies means that life is positively thriving. So, in one sense fracking is neither good nor bad (see paragraph six), and in another sense it is both good (a sign that the Earth is thriving) and bad (some local deleterious impacts).
There are dangers with all technologies – cars, guns, knives, helicopters, airplanes, trains, food processors, wind turbines (they kill lots of birds), drilling platforms and nuclear power stations. There have obviously been some very severe environmental impacts resulting from technology in the past. Given this, it is not surprising that people protest against new technologies, whether this is genetically modified food, nuclear power or fracking. It is also not surprising that many people often believe that the dangers of new technologies are more extreme than they actually are; a fear of the unknown can be a healthy thing.
The fracking debate is symptomatic of the wider relationship between the human species and the planet. The human species is that part of life which has become technological; it is the bringer forth of technology, the saviour of life. Having this pivotal place in the evolutionary unfolding of the planet is not necessarily a desirable one. Humans can suffer terribly as a consequence of being the technological animal; they suffer mentally (Why I am here? How can I be happy? Why did my friend have to die at such a young age?), and they suffer because of the dangers of technology itself. In the UK the fracking industry has to comply with high safety standards in order to prevent harmful environmental impacts. Despite this it is certain that fracking will be the source of suffering for some humans and non-humans (even if this is just due to the machinery being an eyesore and/or noise pollution); this is one of the reasons why people feel that they need to take part in fracking protests. This suffering is a local phenomenon, it affects individuals and local communities; at the national level there is no suffering but there are great benefits. This microcosmic example is analogous to the larger reality of the human presence on the planet; humans suffer in order to help the Earth move to a greater state of ecstasy.

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Friday, 21 June 2013

The Three Questions & the Philosophical Worldview


In most of my recent posts there has been an emphasis on global warming. The reason for this is that human-induced global warming has a particularly important place in my philosophical worldview. If one was to read some of these posts without being aware that the discussion of global warming is part of a philosophical worldview, and that the need for geoengineering the temperature of the atmosphere falls out of this worldview, then one will be missing the point. More than this, one might be bemused, confused, one might find the writings to be strange, obviously wrong, or even incomprehensible.

Why is this? It is because the dominant contemporary worldview concerning the relationship between the human species and the Earth is very different to my worldview. Furthermore, the fact that the appropriate response to global warming, and the 'environmental crisis' in general, is wrapped up in a philosophical worldview is barely even realised or discussed. In other words, the discussion of the appropriate response to global warming standardly takes place firmly within a dominating worldview, a worldview whose existence pervades the thought of the participants without them even realising that this is so. This dominant worldview is the 'Destroyer
Worldview' which I outline in my latest book:


Saviours or Destroyers: The relationship between the human species and the rest of life on Earth 


If you are unfamiliar with talk of 'worldviews' then a simple example with help. When the first pioneers realised that the Earth revolves around the Sun, the dominant worldview was that the Earth was the centre of the universe. This dominant worldview was so all pervading that the vast majority of people ridiculed the ideas of the first pioneers. The dominant worldview so pervaded the thought of the vast majority of people that they couldn't comprehend how that view could be wrong; the pioneers were surely crazy people, thought the masses. The masses didn't even entertain the possibility that their beliefs were simply a philosophical worldview; their beliefs seemed to be so self-evidently true that they weren't something which needed to be thought about or discussed. In other words, as with the dominant contemporary 'Destroyer Worldview', the worldview was so powerful that its existence wasn't even realised (it was taken to be a self-evident fact not a challengeable construction of the human mind) until it was initially challenged and ultimately shown to be utterly false.

So, with this in mind, I thought I would share with you the basic outline of my philosophical worldview as it currently appears on Wikipedia. I can confirm that the entry as it currently stands is an accurate description of my view. The rest of this post is from my Wikipedia page, but you can find additional information on that page:


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neil_Paul_Cummins


The Three Questions

  1. Does the human species have an important place on the planet?
  2. If the human species has an important place on the planet, how does this relate to the environmental crisis and human-induced global warming?
  3. How does all of this relate to the decisions and actions of individual humans?
Cummins claims that these three questions are deeply interrelated. The human species has an important place on the planet and this is deeply related to the environmental crisis and human-induced global warming. Furthermore, individual humans have been endowed with certain feelings/motivations by the universe; most humans act in accordance with these feelings/motivations and this ensures that human culture has an evolutionary trajectory towards human-induced global warming and planetary geoengineering.


 

The Philosophical Worldview

  1. The Earth and the Sun, like all other parts of the universe, are ageing entities.
  2. The Universe is divided into two parts – life and non-life.
  3. The entire Universe is pervaded with states of feeling (panwhat-it-is-likeness).
  4. Life is a good state of feeling for the Universe to be in.
  5. Life, and complex life in particular, require certain conditions in order to survive.
  6. When life arises it strives to stay in existence by spreading out over the planet it arises on and by regulating the temperature of that planet’s atmosphere to keep it favourable for its continued existence (as described in James Lovelock's Gaia Theory).
  7. As the Sun’s energy keeps on increasing the point will come when, in the absence of a technological species, the ability of life to regulate the temperature of the planet’s atmosphere will cease.
  8. In order to survive non-human-induced global warming life needs to evolve a technological species.
  9. Becoming technological entails the opening of a division, part of the universe has to see itself as 'non-natural' and as opposed to 'nature'. Becoming technological also involves manipulating the 'natural' to the extent that an environmental crisis and technology-induced global warming are generated.
  10. On the Earth the human species is that part of life which is technological.
  11. The purpose of the human species is to be the saviour of life through developing and deploying the technology which regulates the temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere.
  12. Individual humans, just like all parts of the universe, naturally act/move in a way that maximises their state of feeling (towards pleasure and away from pain). The majority of humans acting in accordance with their feelings gives the trajectory to human culture which ensures that the human species fulfils its purpose.
  13. The human species is special because it is the technological saviour of life on Earth.
  14. The human species will fulfil its purpose because of concerns about, and the reality of, human-induced global warming.
  15. This is the only reason that the human species is special ('raised up above' all of the non-human life-forms of the Earth). The human species isn't special because of rationality, consciousness, spirituality, language, culture, tool use, or any other 'unique' attribute.
This view is outlined by Cummins in his first book: 'Is the Human Species Special?: Why human-induced global warming could be in the interests of life'.[2] He is also the founder of the paradigm of 'panwhat-it-is-likeness'. According to this view, mind and consciousness are very rare attributes in the universe, but states of what-it-is-likeness pervade the universe. The 'panwhat-it-is-likeness' view is developed in detail in: 'An Evolutionary Perspective on the Relationship between Humans and their Surroundings: Geoengineering, the Purpose of Life & the Nature of the Universe'.[3]

Panwhat-it-is-likeness is best thought of as different to panpsychism as the latter implies that psyche or mind or consciousness pervades the universe. In accordance with the Buddhist Theory of Atoms, Cummins contends that smells/tastes/feelings pervade the universe, and that only two senses evolve in humans - seeing and hearing.

 

Practical Implications

In 'Saviours or Destroyers: The relationship between the human species and the rest of life on Earth'[4] Cummins describes how we are living through a painful technological birthing process; life is bringing forth 'technological armour' to help ensure its future survival. He claims that there are two implications which follow from his philosophical worldview:
  • That if we realise that that the universe/life is 'inevitably' moving towards a better state through this current transitional stage of a painful technological birthing process then we can act differently. We cannot stop the process, but we can reduce the suffering it involves (for humans and for non-human life-forms). He claims that resources can be focused on geoengineering the temperature of the atmosphere, and resources that are currently being used trying to avoid this outcome can be more fruitfully deployed (they are wasted resources because not only can the outcome not be avoided, it is actually a positive outcome). Resources can be redeployed to other pressing environmental and developmental issues which need to be dealt with at the surface of the Earth.
  • As parts of the ‘feeling universe’ (panwhat-it-is-likeness) we can seek to be more effective at living ‘in tune’ with our feelings and thereby effortlessly move to an optimal state of feeling – one that maximises our health and happiness. He claims that if one uses one's thought processes to ‘disobey’ one's feelings one will not be optimally happy. One should simply let the universe do its thing within one and thereby let the universe naturally move to the highest/best state of feeling.

 

Price's response

In 2012, Peter Xavier Price, from the Sussex Centre for Intellectual History (University of Sussex), wrote a response to Is the Human Species Special?: Why human-induced global warming could be in the interests of life.[5] This is some of what Price had to say:
"Cummins' account of what he calls the 'trajectory of human evolution from hunter-gatherer to technological society' —indeed, the very thread upon which his whole argument is based—appears, in truth, to be little more than the eighteenth-century Scottish 'four-stages-theory', albeit in slightly modified form. Had Cummins acknowledged this interesting fact, he might even have reached the conclusion that we may now be entering (or already find ourselves in) a quinquennial, climatical phase of a potential 'five-stage theory', replete with its own conundrums and challenges."

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Thursday, 30 May 2013

George Monbiot on atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations reaching 400ppm


Earlier this month George Monbiot wrote an article reflecting on the fact that atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations have reached 400 parts per million for the first time since records began 800,000 years ago:


"Via Dolorosa" 10 May 2013



Monbiot claims that:
 
 
"The only way forward now is back: to retrace our steps along this road and to seek to return atmospheric concentrations to around 350 parts per million, as the 350.org campaign demands. That requires, above all, that we leave the majority of the fossil fuels which have already been identified in the ground. There is not a government or an energy company which has yet agreed to do so."


In effect, Monbiot is claiming that the only way forward is X, and then in his article he presents a good case that X is never going to happen; the conclusion is that climate breakdown (and the following extinction of the human species) is almost inevitable. So, Monbiot concludes:
 
 
"Without a widespread reform of campaign finance, lobbying and influence-peddling and the systematic corruption they promote, our chances of preventing climate breakdown are close to zero.
 
So here we stand at a waystation along the road of idiocy, apparently determined only to complete our journey."
 
 

What is the cause of this tragic situation? Who is to blame? According to Monbiot the dire situation we face is due to the power of the fossil fuel companies, and the unsavoury character of those who run them:
 

"The problem is simply stated: the power of the fossil fuel companies is too great. Among those who seek and obtain high office are people characterised by a complete absence of empathy or scruples, who will take money or instructions from any corporation or billionaire who offers them, and then defend those interests against the current and future prospects of humanity."

 
 
It is hard to take Monbiot's assessment of the situation very seriously. I mean, let us start with the fact:

Atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations on the Earth have reached 400ppm due to the combined effect of human actions over a prolonged period.

 
 
There are obviously reasons why this state of affairs has come about; factors which have caused this situation to pertain. What are these factors? According to Monbiot, the causal factors are:
 
 

* The people in high office are characterised by a complete absence of empathy or scruples.
 
 

I presume that you can easily see how unsatisfactory such an answer is. What are the actual causal factors which have caused the state of affairs to come about?


* Since the first humans came into existence humans have been acting in accordance with the inner drives and feelings which are endowed to them by the universe. Because humans act in accordance with these drives/feelings human culture has evolved from hunter-gatherer to globalised technological society. When a planet becomes technological a side-effect of this is that the planet goes through a transitory stage of environmental disruption; this is because becoming technological requires the appropriation and transformation of planetary resources. One of these transitory disruptions is a short-term increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations. Furthermore, when a planet becomes technological this is a sign of a healthy planet. In other words, if we were to detect a rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration on a distant planet, similar to that which is currently occurring on the Earth, then we could safely conclude that this is a life-bearing planet where life is thriving; this is because it means that not only has life colonised the entire planet but it has also reached the stage of the birthing of technology. What a cause of joyous celebration!


Monbiot is completely missing the bigger picture. He claims that we are determined to complete a journey along a "road of idiocy" because of a few individuals who are "characterised by a complete absence of empathy or scruples". The reality is that the planet is currently, thanks to the human presence, positively thriving. And the situation we are in cannot even remotely plausibly be blamed on a few people who have an absence of empathy or scruples; the situation we face is due to the drives/feelings of billions of past and present humans.

The future is not a gloomy one, it is simply one in which the human species actively technologically regulates the temperature of the atmosphere for the benefit of life on Earth. There are a range of other benefits for life on Earth which also arise from the human-initiated technological birthing process; I outline these in: Saviours or Destroyers: The relationship between the human species and the rest of life on Earth .

I describe the important place that the human species has on the planet, and expand on much of the above, in my first book:



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Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Global Warming and the Anthropocentric and Ecocentric Attitudes

 
I think it is worth reflecting on some of the terminology which surrounds both the global warming debate and environmental issues more generally. When I became aware that the human species needs to actively regulate the temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere, and that this is a good thing for life on Earth, I wasn’t aware of much of the terminology that people have created when they debate such issues. For example, I hadn’t heard of the terms ‘geoengineering’, ‘anthropocentric’, ‘ecocentric’ and ‘the Anthropocene’. When I wrote my first book in 2010 – Is the Human Species Special?: Why human-induced global warming could be in the interests of life – I simply referred to ‘the need to technologically regulate the Earth’s atmospheric temperature’. I find most of the terms that have been created to be unhelpful. If the objective is to achieve a clear understanding of the situation we are in and how we need to respond to it through selecting appropriate environmental policy responses, then it might be best to use as little terminology as possible. Rather than talk of ‘the Anthropocene’, ‘geoengineering’, ‘anthropocentricism’ and ‘ecocentricism’, we could use simple language. If we are to use such terms, we need to be very clear about exactly what they mean, leaving little room for misinterpretation.
 
An unfortunate effect of the creation of such terms is that they provide a mechanism for causing division; once people associate themselves with a particular term, they typically become closed-minded to the realities inherent in alternative positions. For example, when one concludes that one must be ‘ecocentric’, then one will be naturally hostile to anyone who they believe to be ‘anthropocentric’; for, as these terms have come to be typically used they are thought of as opposites; you are one or the other. So, the task of the ‘ecocentric’ (as they see it) is to persuade the enemy – the ‘anthropocentric’ – that they should desert their associates and switch their allegiance to a more enlightened camp. But the terms, as standardly defined, aren’t actually even opposites! We would surely be a lot better off without all of this jargon. Here are standard definitions of ecocentricism and anthropocentricism:
 
Ecocentricism: A philosophy or perspective that places intrinsic value on all living organisms and their natural environment, regardless of their perceived usefulness or importance to human beings.
 
Anthropocentricism: A philosophy or perspective that sees human beings as the most important feature of the universe.
 
As I have already noted, these terms are typically used as opposites. I have been in debates with academic environmental philosophers who identify themselves as ‘ecocentric’. On the basis of some of the things that I say they quickly conclude that I am ‘enemy’, an ‘anthropocentric’, and that I therefore cannot be a fellow ‘ecocentric’. This causes them to say things such as “You anthropocentric, you don’t even care about any of the non-human life-forms on the Earth!” This really is quite ridiculous, but you can see that the term ‘anthropocentric’ is hurled around by some people as a term of abuse.
This is ridiculous because anyone can see that the terms, as standardly defined above, are not actually opposites. One can believe that the human species is the most important feature of the universe, whilst also believing that all living organisms and their natural environment have intrinsic value, regardless of their perceived usefulness or importance to human beings. This is my belief. I am an anthropocentric and an ecocentric. Those who see an inevitable duality have deluded themselves. The terms are only opposites if one believes that humans have intrinsic value and non-human life-forms are devoid of intrinsic value. In reality, all life-forms have intrinsic value, but the human species is the most valuable, most important, life-form on the Earth.
It is one thing having philosophies and perspectives (ecocentricism and anthropocentricism), but when it comes to global warming and the environmental crisis, what is important are actions. When we look at collective human actions (at the global scale) are these actions in the interests of humans? Are these actions in the interests of non-human life on Earth? These are the important questions.
Most people seem to assume that humans are opposed to non-human life on Earth in such a way that the vast majority of actions which are in the interests of humans are not in the interests of non-human life. For example, if humans chop down part of the Amazon rainforest for agriculture, this is in the interests of humans, but it is not in the interests of non-human life. Such a view is narrow and simplistic. This is because it focuses on one particular event at one particular time, whilst the human relation to the non-human life-forms of the Earth needs to be seen in a collective global way which spans large swathes of time. If one focuses solely on a single leaf, one will be blind to the larger reality of the tree, and one will be utterly ignorant of the wonderful forest. Let us give up the leaves and gaze upon the forest.
 
Anthropocentric actions  =  Collective humans actions (at the planetary level, over time) which are in the interests of the human species.
 
Ecocentric actions  =  Collective human actions (at the planetary level, over time) which are in the interests of the totality that is life on Earth.
 
Anthropocentric actions  =  Ecocentric actions.
 
This is the simple truth of the forest. In other words, the way that the human species has interacted with the planet is simultaneously in its own best interests and in the best interests of life on Earth.
 

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